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Revolutionary blood

Let’s hear it for the dot-coms. History may bear them out. For use: Friday, March 23, 2001 FUTURE SHOES: Revolutionary blood Enough hand-wringing. Let’s hear it for the dot-coms.

Have you noticed how, with the recent freeing up of the stock market, it has become permissible–nay, mandatory–to speak of the dot-com companies that went belly-up with disdain and contempt?

Me, too. It seems like a peculiarly American thing, to turn bitterly against people who tried their best but came up short. Not just the dot-coms that lifted our economy like a gossamer soap bubble, but anyone who does really well for a while, and then goes splat.

Like the New York Giants, finishing a distant second in the most recent Super Bowl. Or Al Gore–he didn’t even finish second necessarily, but there he is, teaching junior college kids in Kenosha.

Well, I want to swim against the tide for a moment and pay my respects to these people. The dot-coms in particular. In the view of British e-commerce guru Philip Evans, author of “Blown to Bits: How the New Economics of Information Transforms Strategy,” the demise of the Silicon startups is no disgrace. In fact, it is an historic inevitability. No revolution ever goes smoothly, and the commonest thing in the world is for early advocates of a new way of behaving to fall into the meat grinder. Look at the French Revolution. Halfway through the awful upheaval, the secretary of The Terror, Maximilien Robespierre, was himself guillotined on the site where he had directed the deaths of so many.

But did that mean the rivers stopped running with blood? No way did it mean that. It was just a case of the revolution devouring its young.

Look at the Soviet Union. Who were the first people rounded up and shot after the Romanovs? The Bolsheviks themselves. What did Hitler do as soon as he attained power? Murdered his own beloved SA shock troops.

In business, the first railroads failed, but railroading itself survived. Car companies shrank from 5000 in 1895 to a dozen by 1925–yet the automobile industry did not exactly become extinct.

It is all of a piece with Joseph Schumpeter’s theory of capitalism as “an engine of creative destruction.” But a fiery engine is putting too kind a light on it–change is a bloodbath. Always was, always will be.

The current revolting development, with NASDAQ reeling and former stockbrokers sleeping on park benches with copies of ComputerUser shading them from the sun is just a bleak snapshot–a moment in time within a larger trend.

Whether Napster and the other tech IPOs die a thousand deaths lining the roadways into Rome is immaterial to the long view. Sure, it hurts. I watched my kids’ college money go from Princeton to Wheaton in the space of a week.

But the blood of the revolution flows deeper and broader than these rivulets suggest. Change keeps a-coming, despite downdrafts, elections, emptied wallets and broken hearts. And being inevitable–which it is–this revolution of behavior, communication, relationships and thought has nothing to prove, and can take its fine, sweet time.

Michael Finley also writes Diversions monthly for ComputerUser magazine.

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